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US Supremes to rule on software patents

by on09 December 2013

Industry holds its breath

The highest court in the US will rule if it is possible to patent software and open the way for new breed of trolls to suck the marrow out of the industry. The Supreme Court agreed it will rule on the divisive issue of what kinds of software are eligible for patent protection. The court's decision may prove key to deciding under what circumstances companies can be sued for using certain software in their products.

The case was bought by Alice Corporation, which holds a patent for a computer system that facilitates financial transactions. The patent is challenged by CLS Bank International. Companies including Google, HP, Facebook and Netflix have signalled their interest in the issue by asking the court to hear the WildTangent case.

Some legal experts, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties group, say that courts are too keen to uphold patents on ideas that are too vague to deserve protection. Such vague patents can be used against big tech companies, which say they are forced to spend money defending lawsuits instead of investing in research and development. Google does not want too much software protection, others, like IBM prefer that most software be patent eligible.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which has primary responsibility for interpreting patent law has not come up with a test that judges can use to review software patent claims. If the Supreme Court rules on it, it will give Judges greater clarity. The case will decide how innovative an invention should have to be to receive legal protection. An invention related to an abstract idea can be patented, but it must include a way of applying the idea. Word on the street is that the Judges are expected to say that software patents were not patent eligible.

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